Black history month is a time for celebration of African American culture and contributions, but it is also a time to reflect on the tumultuous and often terrifying history of the African American journey, a journey which is deeply defined by triumph over slavery, persecution, and racism.
Despite its modern unpopularity, racism is still thriving in the world today. The civil rights movement began a chain reaction which has ended in a social canon of political correctness enforced sternly in the media and by politicians. Racism has become one of the most inappropriate feelings available.
With white schoolchildren everywhere being taught black history and black culture annually, and visible government offices filling with minorities of all ethnicity, it seems that we could be on the way to ending racism. And yet, for all our best efforts to teach equality and cultural objectivity, racism still flourishes in America, and throughout the world.
Is racism a natural human instinct? All civilizations have experienced varying levels of racism. History is filled with enslavement and persecution based on ethnicity and skin color. According to Hindu legend, the light skinned Vedic Aryans conquered and enslaved the darker skinned Dravidian peoples, establishing the cast system which defined India until the 1949, when it was outlawed by the new Indian Constitution. While in ancient Egypt, the color of the slaves and masters could alternate, depending on the time period and the ethnicity of the Pharaoh.
It is perhaps a mechanism of survival to fear and even hate a person who looks entirely different than you. Human beings evolved in small groups, or families which competed with other family units for food and territory. Being able to clearly visually identify family members is a useful survival trait for a species that utilizes its eyes over any other sensory organ for it’s observation of the world.
Even today, most infants are raised in the sole company of members of a single ethnicity, with only occasional interaction with people of various backgrounds. The facial structures of our parents and family members are imprinted onto our unconscious mind, and establish our parameters for facial beauty. This familiarity, and the resulting unfamiliarity that is projected onto other racial groups, may be a key unconscious factor in racism. Can we imagine a child growing up in a healthy, supportive, multi-racial family ever becoming a racist?
And can we equate the growing lack of cultural separation between white and black American youth to the rise of Hip Hop and Rap in American suburbs? The millennial generation, as they are sometimes called, is showing signs of being the most non-racist generation of Americans ever to live, with African American style and culture slowly transforming into the social standard and ideal.
Could it be that it was the simple act of early exposure to an alternate ethnicity that has transformed the minds of these children? And what of the surviving pockets of bigotry and hatred left unmoved by the cultural exchange? Neo Nazism and the Klu Klux Klan are as active as ever, while racial slurs and distasteful racist jokes still assault and insult Americans from sea to shining sea.
Whether the causes of racism are natural or not, the solution remains the same. Education is the removal of ignorance, and racism is ignorance, in a very pure form. The fight to bring tolerance and empathy to the world will continue, as educators across the country once again utilize February to confront our children with Americas own troubling failures in equality.